Remembering that 1957 “New Plane Smell”

  • Published
  • By Lt Col Terrence G. Popravak, Jr., USAF (Retired)
  • 142nd Wing/Historian's Office

This was the scene on November 22, 1957, some 66 years ago, at Portland Air Force Base on the Oregon Air National Guard ramp.  It was a year of transition for the primary aircraft assigned to the Oregon Air National Guard’s (OreANG) 142nd Fighter Group (Air Defense).  Here group personnel receive a new Northrop F-89H-1-NO Scorpion fighter-interceptor, serial number 54-294. 

The OreANG F-89H Era

With the F-89H, the OreANG gained its first fighter capable of firing guided air-to-air missiles, which were the Hughes GAR-1 (semi-active radar homing) and GAR-2 (infrared homing) Falcon (later redesignated AIM-4).  The Falcon was the USAF’s first operational guided air-to-air missile, which initially entered service in 1956.  Up to six Falcons could be carried on an F-89H with three in each wingtip pod.  In addition, each pod carried 21 x 2.75-inch (70mm) “Mighty Mouse” Folding-Fin Aerial Rockets (42 x FFAR total).

It was also in the organization’s F-89H era (1957 – 1960) that its 123rd Fighter-Interceptor Squadron (FIS) began to sit regular air defense alert in defense of the Pacific Northwest.  This started in October of 1958.  See “Sixty Years of Redhawk Alert” here.

Aft of the new jet is a prop-driven North American TB-25K Mitchell, a former B-25J medium bomber converted to serve as an air intercept radar training plane for the unit.  It was equipped with the Hughes E-1 fire control system used by the older Lockheed F-94B fighter-interceptors replaced only a few months previously.  The TB-25, serial number 44-30480, left the Oregon inventory the next month after two years of service in the unit.

At the right is Northrop F-89D-30-NO Scorpion serial number 51-11439, one of 682 D-models built, the main production variant of the F-89.  This aircraft had come to Oregon’s 123rd FIS only months before, from the USAF’s 460th FIS then-based at Portland.  It’s unclear if it became one of the 350 F-89D’s which were subsequently rebuilt and updated as the ultimate variant of the Scorpion, the F-89J, which Oregon operated from 1960 to 1966.

An Oregon H-model Survivor

Of note, one of Oregon’s F-89H’s, F-89H-5-NO serial number 54-0322, has survived.  After many years on static display at Portland ANG Base, since 1983 it’s been on display at the Hill Aerospace Museum at Hill AFB, Utah.  The aircraft briefly served with the USAF’s 321st FIS at Paine AFB, WA in 1956 before coming to Portland in 1957 where it served until 1960 when it became a static display at the base.

It’s unclear how many of these “low mileage” F-89Hs such as 54-0322 were first-flown by active duty squadrons before they came to Oregon in 1957, as compared to brand-new jets straight from the factory.  Perhaps all of them did.  It may well be that 322 still had the “new plane smell” when it arrived.  It is one of only two H-models which still exist, out of 156 built.

The ”New” New Plane Smell

In a similar way to 1957, 2024 is expected to be a year of new aircraft transition for the 142nd Wing, with the anticipated arrival of the first Boeing F-15EX Eagle II fighter jets straight from the factory in St. Louis, Missouri. 

Oregon’s Eagle era began in 1989 when the unit transitioned from the McDonnell Douglas F-4C Phantom II, and the unit has operated every air-to-air variant of the F-15 since then.  See “The 142nd Fighter Wing celebrates 30 years of flying F-15 Eagles,” here.

The 142nd Wing will be the first operational unit to receive the new F-15EX.  “We’re very excited that this brand-new new mission design series aircraft is being provided to us by the United States Air Force, said Col. Todd A. “Tupac” Hofford, Commander of the 142nd Wing, in a social media video post two months ago.  Col. Hofford continued, “We’re excited that your hometown air force, who has one of our federal missions to protect the Pacific Northwest through our alert capabilities, is going to have this brand-new airplane to continue to protect you, and all of us will contribute to the mission and success of this wing.”

It has been a long time since the OreANG received an aircraft with the “new plane smell,” but like with the F-89H in 1957, there’s no doubt that the professionals of the 142nd Wing will make the most of the new F-15EX Eagle II airframe in service to community, state and nation.